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Our 2013 Program: Energy and Indoor environmental Quality in Modern or Modernized Buildings

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Health Canada Addresses Radon In Homes: Release of radon guide reaffirms mechanical professionals' leading role in the health and well-being of Canadians
Copyright 2012, Robert Bean, R.E.T., P.L.(Eng.). All rights reserved. Edited and originally published in HPAC Canada, May/June 2012

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It has been well over a decade since I first professed the potential benefits of repositioning the HVAC profession out from under the umbrella of the construction industry and placing it under the auspices of the healthcare industry. Regrettably, manufacturers, distributors, designers, and trades people remain more likely to identify with the hardware of HVAC, rather than the software of HVAC, that being its contributions to the ergonomics of the indoor environment. Then along comes Health Canada’s publication, Reducing Radon Levels in Existing Homes: A Canadian Guide for Professional Contractors.

Ok, so I am just an ordinary lad, but even I can raise the question: Why is Health Canada and not CMHC or NRCan providing guidance to professional contractors? Have you read what Health Canada is all about? It is the federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health – that's why it's called Health Canada (go figure). So, in addition to being a resource for Canadians and their doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists and physiotherapists, it is now providing guidance to contractors. What is up with that? It is because the health professionals in the federal government and their provincial/territorial counterparts correctly understand that standing between the health of Canadians and the hazards of indoor environments is you, the professional contractor.

Imagine that...you who is all caught up in the day-to-day management of jobsites, vehicles, staff, insurance and negotiating of prices for furnaces, boilers, pumps and tools, being asked to mitigate the health of the indoor environment because it could affect the health of its occupants. There are potentially large benefits from repositioning the profession of HVAC out from under the umbrella of the construction industry. A Reader's Digest 2012 poll showed healthcare professionals among those that Canadians trust most. Healthcare matters to Canadians. Let that be a big hint to those professional contractors being asked by Health Canada to step up, at least when it comes to radon.

Diagram of how radon enters a house
Reproduced with the permission of Natural Resources Canada 2008, courtesy of the Geological Survey of Canada

So let’s talk about radon as described in Health Canada’s Reducing Radon Levels in Existing Homes and the ASTM Standard E 1465-2008A Standard Practice for Radon Control Options for the Design and Construction of New Low-Rise Residential Buildings. Radon is a radioactive, colourless and odourless inert gas that causes lung cancer. Next to smoking, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada. The only difference between carbon monoxide poisoning and radon is the former can do you in under a few minutes, whereas radon has the courtesy of taking a long time – and yet both can be prevented. The danger with radon is you never know if you are inhaling it.

In order to determine if inhaling radon has been a past and/or present activity of Cross-Canada Survey of Radon Concentrations in Homesyou and yours, you have to test the indoor environments you have lived in or currently live in. It is not a difficult thing to do, nor is it expensive. For the relatively small disruption, it is well worth making it an educational project for your family and clients. All the details for testing are in the recently published guide, as are the mitigation processes. I would be remiss if I did not emphasize the technical value of the ASTM Standard E 1465-2008A, which is referenced in the World Health Organization (WHO) radon document (Box 2, pg 44), but for some as yet unexplained reason is absent in the Health Canada document.

So why the focus on radon now? Where were the radon concerns decades ago when the United States and other countries embarked on radon control? Actually, it has always been a concern in Canada; if you had been paying attention to some of the earliest proponents of HRVs. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, at least two brands of heat recovery ventilators that I know of were using radon control to market their products. I am pretty hard on manufacturers using marketing techniques that masquerade as science - well mea culpa - here is a case where legitimate concerns were publicized by the manufacturing sector before it became fodder for a federal government health guide some 30 years later.

Let’s wrap this up by stating that the WHO long ago declared radon a health concern. It is supported by member countries, of which Canada is one. At least one large Canadian co-operative of professional contractors has stepped up and trained members of its team on the aspects of radon, including testing and mitigation of existing and new installations; and there are a few others who have done the same. If you have any desire to step into this arena, see the references and spend some time studying the content at the Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program. Radon testing and mitigation is not difficult to execute but it is not a walk in the park either. You will have to learn the "alpha to omega" of radon.

Becoming listed as a C-NRPP measurement and mitigation certificate holder adds a new dimension to one's skill set, but the real benefit of the process may be in helping you better understand the role that you play in the health of the indoor environment and how that paradigm elevates you up and out from under the skeptical eyes consumers generally hold for the construction industry. <>


Resources

  1. Reducing Radon Levels in Existing Homes: A Canadian Guide for Professional Contractors, Health Canada, 2010,

  2. ASTM E 1465 – 2008A Standard Practice for Radon Control Options for the Design and Construction of New Low-Rise Residential Buildings, Jan 2009, 

  3. Canadian Lung Association, Pollution & air quality – Radon

  4. World Health Organization Handbook on Indoor Radon: A Public Health Perspective, World Health Organization 2009

  5. Cross-Canada Survey of Radon: Concentrations in Homes, Final Report, March 2012

  6. Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program

  7. Radon Map of Canada


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